Parrots trained to use touch screens and play games with their tongues

An endangered species of parrot in New Zealand has been trained to use touchscreens in order to test animals' ability to distinguish the real world from technology.

Scientists in Christchurch initially trained six mountain 'kea' birds to use touchscreens by sticking peanut butter on a tablet touchscreen.

The birds use their tongues to tap objects on-screen, as their beaks are made of the same material as fingernails and won't work on touchscreens.

The scientists then devised a number of puzzles to be completed both on-screen and in the real world.

One puzzle saw the birds given a black ball on a seesaw in real life, which would tilt and roll the ball into one of two boxes. The kea birds would track the ball and find the box, receiving a treat in return.

Then, they showed the parrots an animated version of a ball on the seesaw but on a digital touchscreen. The parrots did exactly as before, and chose the correct box.

The scientists behind the experiment say it proves that the parrots think the virtual and physical worlds are continuous, and aren't able to tell the difference between the two.

"Unlike infants, kea do not discriminate between these two contexts, and [they] do not exhibit a preference for either," the authors at the University of Auckland said.

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The experiment was designed to inform scientists how endangered species interact with the human world. The kea is the only mountain parrot in the world and is said to be one of the smartest birds in existence.

A Scottish tourist was mugged by one in New Zealand when it stole his wallet and flew off with it.

They're also threatened with extinction. The kea population in the wild is estimated to be as low as 1,000-5,000.

They are endangered by lead poisoning and a 'bounty' introduced on them by the New Zealand government in the 1860s, which saw 150,000 killed by farmers.

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